The Think like a Detective Blog

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.

Revolutionizing Research with the Moneyball Strategy

Jan 14, 2024

Does Research move too slowly for Product or Marketing?

It's undoubtedly a complaint we hear a lot.

I addressed these concerns with a new approach to Research—one grounded in the approach that military and police intelligence agencies use to gather, analyze, and recommend action on information—that accelerates the research velocity.

The movie Moneyball inspired this new approach.

The Background:

Moneyball is a 2011 biographical sports drama film based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis. The movie tells the story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team's 2002 season and their general manager Billy Beane's attempts to assemble a competitive team despite limited resources.

NB: I encourage you to watch the movie if you haven't seen it.

A brief plot summary:

  • Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics general manager, is frustrated with the team's lack of success due to their limited budget compared to other teams.

  • Beane meets Peter Brand, a young economist who advocates for a new approach to player recruitment based on statistical analysis rather than traditional scouting methods.

  • Beane and Brand identified players with a high on-base percentage (OBP), measuring how often a player reached base through hits, walks, and hit-by-pitches.

  • Despite resistance from the team's scouts and coaching staff, Beane and Brand used data analysis to identify undervalued players who can help the team win games.

  • The Athletics begin to succeed with this approach but face challenges and setbacks throughout the season.

  • Ultimately, the team falls short in the playoffs, but Beane's innovative approach to team-building earns him respect and recognition throughout Major League Baseball.

Moneyball works because Billy and Peter (correctly) believed that getting on base led to more runs scored. More runs scored led to more victories. 

In short, if you generate more run-scoring opportunities, you increase the likelihood of winning games.

So now you are probably asking, "What does this have to do with Research?"

We can generate more scoring opportunities in research through our version of "getting on base."

In research, getting on base means optimizing for rapidly gathering facts and evidence.

When you start broadly, by gathering a lot of facts, you increase your chances of developing insights. You can generate some insights from five facts, but you are more likely to generate more insights from five hundred facts. 

Like Effie Trinket said in The Hunger Games,

So, we do everything we can to collect facts and evidence quickly.

Research historically has overly focused on "primary" research projects. While primary research is (and should be) a tool in the researcher's toolbox, it shouldn't be the starting point.

How this works:

We change the order of operations using a three-tiered approach, similar to building a house, i.e., Foundations, Skeleton, and Gaps. 

You first start by establishing a solid foundation, you then build a strong skeleton on that foundation, and then fill in the gaps with new learnings:

  1. Foundation. We begin with what is known. We look at past research and established facts. This forms the foundation.
  2. Skeleton. We then take the path of least resistance and look at evidence and data that are readily available. Here, we look at internal data sources. This gives us solid bones, i.e., a good skeleton.
  3. Gaps. Once we have a solid foundation and a good skeleton, we fill in the gaps with primary research.

With this model, we right-size research against the available time, necessary rigor, and existing financial constraints. Some projects will never get past the foundational stage. Others won't make it past the skeleton stage. Most importantly, we don't always need to conduct primary research. 

We take the Goldilocks approach to research—not too much, not too little, but just right. 

While this model is built for speed, it doesn't sacrifice quality.

The goal of research isn't to deliver decks—it is to enable business stakeholders to make better decisions faster.

So, how do we optimize for that?

Researchers look for ways to increase rigor outside primary research (which is often the most time and resource-intensive).

Trying to reduce the time of a research project is limiting. You can pull only so many levers, e.g., methods, recruitments, etc. But regardless of the lever, you can only shorten a research project so much.

Instead, we remove the friction of depending solely on primary research projects. 

We gather readily available evidence outside of the primary research project and, in turn, reduce the overall time to insight (and decision).

This allows us to gather facts and evidence faster.

And when you have readily available facts and evidence, generating insights is easier.

In the end, the Moneyball Strategy has revolutionized the research approach. By applying the principles of gathering facts and evidence rapidly, we can generate insights and make better decisions faster. 

The three-tiered approach of Foundations, Skeleton, and Gaps allows us to right-size research against the available time, necessary rigor, and existing financial constraints. 

This methodology ensures that we don't sacrifice quality while optimizing for speed. Ultimately, research aims to enable business stakeholders to make better decisions, and the Moneyball Strategy is a powerful tool to achieve that goal.

Inside the mind of a detective.

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.